The 10 Best Movie Soundtracks of the Decade

Best Movie Soundtracks of the Decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

The first commercially issued movie soundtrack was released in 1937 for Walt Disneys Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since then, music has been an integral component to the cinematic experience as a means of storytelling and evoking emotion. While films typically possess a score (music composed specifically for a film that is usually instrumental), a soundtrack differs in that it contains previously recorded music matched up to various scenes. While there were some fantastic scores over the past decade, soundtracks significantly stood out with the experimental blending of musical genres and deep cuts to capture a films tone, theme, and setting. Here are my top 10 soundtracks (in no particular order) from the past decade which all feature pre-existing songs. Each film is fantastic in its own right, and the music is just the cherry on top. 

Frances Ha

Writer/director Noah Baumbachs 2012 dark comedy is a relatable story for anyone in their 20s who is unsure what to do with their life. Adorned with music from François Truffaut films, the soundtrack reflects a dreamy idealism, youthful zest, and optimistic perception of the future despite begrudgingly adapting to adulthood and mourning the loss of treasured relationships. The soundtrack contains several songs by prolific French composer Georges Delerue as a nod to French New Wave, and David Bowies Modern Loveis played in a scene that serves as a remake of the iconic sequence from Leos Carax’s 1986 Mauvais Sang (or Bad Blood) where the main character runs wildly through the streets. Paul McCartneys rare Blue Swayprovides a lively match for Francesbubbly and optimistic personality despite her dismal situation as she grapples with what she wants out of life as opposed to what she really needs. 

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantinos ode to Hollywood is beautiful and bittersweet. The story of actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman best friend working in the backdrop of the 60s movie industry is paired with a carefully crafted list of tunes that aptly capture the doe-eyed hope (and later corruption) of the times. Working closely with his longtime music supervisor, Mary Ramos, Tarantino specifically did not want any music featured in the film to go beyond 1969 in order to align with the films setting. Roy Head and the Traits’ “Treat Her Rightkicks off the movie and sets the tone of the film with an upbeat and loving tribute to the real-life individuals the film features as well as Hollywood itself. Deep Purples Hushplayed over Tate and Polanski driving through the Hollywood hills reflects the carefree and radiance that Sharon Tate exuded– a rare allure that still permeates the silver screen to this day. In contrast, Tarantino choosing Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Hungryfor the eerie scene in which Sharon Tate meets Charles Manson speaks to his meticulous music selection since this song was specifically chosen because it was produced by Terry Melcher who lived in the house on Cielo Drive and had a direct connection with The Manson Family. 

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton is a biopic that depicts N.W.A.s rise and fall. Once considered the worlds most dangerous group, director F. Gary Gray impressively spotlights the ambitious and nefarious actions of N.W.A. members Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. The films soundtrack primarily features remastered versions of classic songs by N.W.A such as Straight Outta Compton(obviously), Fuck Tha Police, Express Yourselfand Boyz-n-the-Hood. Other songs include Parliaments Flashlightand Everybody Loves the Sunshineby Roy Ayers Ubiquity. N.W.A. put West coast rap on the map and their legacy is one of defiance and resilience. With lyrics rooted in political ferocity, this soundtrack serves as singular nostalgia that perpetuates the rap groups important legacy with an evergreen attitude that still resonates today.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Director James Gunns 2014 Marvel superhero film ignited a passionate fandom for its crew of cosmic misfits. The film centers heavily on Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who was abducted by alien thieves in the 1980s following his mothers death. A mixtape filled with her favorite songs is the only thing that ties him to his past on Earth. The films soundtrack includes Blue Swedes Hooked on a Feeling, David Bowies Moonage Daydream, The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomband Aint No Mountain High Enoughby Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. The mix of rock, soul, and oldies amalgamate into a sentimental time capsule that not only reminds Peter of his love for his mother, but that the notion of family can come in all shapes, sizes, and intergalactic species.

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino has an impressive skill for choosing the perfect music to accompany the journey of his protagonists on their bloody road to freedom and retribution. The music featured in Django Unchained is a mix of genres, relying heavily on spaghetti western influences. Several songs were composed specifically for the film which included Rick Ross’ “100 Black Coffinsfeaturing Jamie Foxx (who also starred as Django), Who Did That To You?by John Legend and Ennio Morricone and Elisas Ancora Qui. Established songs like Jim Croces Ive Got A Nameimply the importance of identity amongst slaves in the Old West and Antebellum South while Brother Deges Too Old To Die Youngcaptures the exhausting yet perennial hope that Django held onto while searching for his wife. One of the most rewarding scenes in the film consists of a gory, gunslinging shootout to a remix featuring Tupacs hook from Untouchablemashed up with James Browns The Payback. Mixed by Tupacs engineer, Claudio Cueni, the song serves as a cathartic anthem as Django conquers the racial injustices and evil slave owners that dare to cross his path. 

Baby Driver

Theres a certain kind of comical and spirited nature to Edgar Wrights 2017 action flick. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver with an affinity for music, always seen with his earplugs in and tunes on hand. The films soundtrack is an eclectic mix of songs that range from Martha and the Vandellas to Queen, Barry White, The Damned, and Beck. For Queens Brighton Rock, Wright wrote the beats of the song into the script in order to align with the stage direction. In fact, several scenes possess an impressive use of choreography that sync up the action sequences to the songs. The movie even takes its name from Baby Driver, a song from the Simon & Garfunkel album Bridge over Troubled Water, which is played during the end credits. The soundtrack spans decades and the movie itself is literally driven by music– when it isnt playing, characters are discussing it and dreaming about it. Theres a relatable love that diffuses throughout–love for music, the road and your special someone. Babys crush Debora (Lily James) sums it up best when she says, sometimes all I want to do is head west on twenty in a car I cant afford with a plan I dont have. Just me, my music and the road.Sometimes thats all you really need.

Inside Llewyn Davis 

The Coen Brothers know how to enhance the stories of their characters with sharp yet gritty precision through allegory and philosophical legend. Theres a rustic ambition to their films which spotlight the tall tales of lovable protagonists despite societys perception of them to be losers in the traditional sense. Set in 1960s New York, theres a moment in the film where Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is on stage telling an audience if it was never new and it never gets old, then its a folk song. This vintage yet familiar concept plays on repeat throughout the film with themes of identity and authenticity. Isaac majestically sings several songs on the soundtrack (produced by T Bone Burnett) such as Fare Thee Well(a collaborative effort with Mumford & Sons frontman Marcus Mumford) and Hang Me, Oh Hang Mewhich is sung at both the beginning and end of the film–its lyrics an apt representation of Llewyns tiresome depression in his pursuit of musical success. Despite its somber tone, the Coen Brothers sprinkle in their signature comedy with Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver joining in for Please, Mr. Kennedy

Drive

The stoic demeanor of Ryan Goslings stuntman character The Driver is a tangible foil to the films soundtrack as the music ignites the emotion resonance. Tracks are filled with dreamy pop love songs and electronica alongside composer Cliff Martinezs sweetly shimmering score which leads any listeners heart to skip a beat. Director Nicolas Winding Refn considered Drive to be a fairytale, and therefore, chose ethereal bands like Chromatics and Johnny Jewel of Desire to score the film with music meant to be evoked through the perspective of The Driver. Colleges A Real Heropersonifies the film by capturing the dual nature of The Driver. Drive begins with Kavinskys Nightcallin one of the sexiest opening sequences to date and propels the emotionally intensity forward as The Driver develops a love for his neighbor, which is charmingly captured with a close-up scene at a party as Desires Under Your Spellis playing. The films music is a poignant journey that demonstrates the mechanical yet amorous tone at just the right speed. 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Ana Lily Amirpours vampire western is a subversive and visually seductive piece of cinema. Shot in black and white, the tone of the film is one of intriguing longing and dread while the multifaceted music fills in the negative space from minimal dialogue. Amirpour selected an eclectic assortment of classic and new Iranian songs that range from ominous to energetic. Notable politically driven Iranian bands such as Kiosk and Radio Tehran are featured on the soundtrack alongside archetypal singers like Dariush, whose contemporary style ignited a new era in Iranian music. There is a palpable juxtaposition with the films cinematography, main character The Girl, and the films music. Opposing elements of shadow and light as well as discretion and vibrancy, all possess a quiet nature uniquely complemented with 80s synthpop. American-based Federale has songs like Black Sundayand Sarcophaguswhich feature ornate orchestral melodies providing the intensity reminiscent of iconic Old Westerns while White Lies’ “Deathsupplies a lively, heart-pounding passion within a more subtle yet still intense scene grounded in romantic yearning. 

Moonrise Kingdom

Filled with adventure, romance, and rebellion, Wes Andersons Moonrise Kingdom has all of the elements that will make your heart flutter. To parallel the young and innocent narrative, several songs are performed by English composer Benjamin Britten, notable for his musical work with children through his Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra. A couple of classical tracks featuring Franz Schubert bring a sophisticated yet playful tone to the film, while Hank Williams’ “RamblinManand Honky Tonkin’” adds a layered element of showing how the characters are wise beyond their years. And who can forget one of the sweetest scenes of the decade as the two young love birds dance beachside in their underwear to Françoise Hardys Le Temps de lAmour

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